Egypt minister downplays effects of Ethiopia dam

Egyptian Minister of Irrigation, Hossam Maghazi speaks to the press during a Nile River forum with his Sudanese and Ethiopian counterparts in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on August 25, 2014. AFP PHOTO/ASHRAF SHAZLY

CAIRO: Egyptian Irrigation Minister Hossam al-Moghazi downplayed Friday the negative effects on Egypt’s water supply of the ongoing construction of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam, saying the first phase of construction would not cause any tangible harm to Egypt.

“The results of additional studies will appear in March 2015, six months before construction of the first phase of the dam is complete,” Moghazi told Anadolu Agency.

He added that the first phase of the multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dam would feature a water storage capacity of 14 billion cubic meters, which would not cause any “tangible” harm to Egypt. “This [continued construction of the dam] does not worry us,” Moghazi said.

Relations between Cairo and Addis Ababa soured last year over Ethiopia’s construction of the $6.4-billion hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile. The project raised alarm bells in Egypt, which relies on the river for almost all of its water needs and feared its historical supply of Nile water would be reduced.

Last year, an international panel of experts recommended that two studies be conducted: a hydrological simulation model and an environmental, social and economic impact assessment.

The two countries agreed to resume tripartite talks over the dam – along with fellow riparian state Sudan – after Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi met in Equatorial Guinea in June.

The tripartite meetings came after an eight-month hiatus due to ongoing differences between Cairo and Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia, for its part, says the dam is necessary for its national development plans. It insists the project won’t impact Egypt’s traditional share of Nile water, which has long been governed by a colonial-era water-sharing treaty – a treaty that Addis Ababa has never recognized.

Construction of the dam should be complete in June 2017, according to Ethiopian officials.

Moghazi said Egypt was only concerned about the dam’s projected storage capacity, which, he says, could erode Egypt’s historical share of Nile water. He stressed that Egypt had made a goodwill gesture by not asking Ethiopia to halt work on the project – a request Cairo made one year ago without effect.

The irrigation minister added that additional studies would determine whether the projected height of the dam – along with its storage capacity – would have any negative consequences for Egypt.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 30, 2014, on page 4.




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